First relief, then jubilation was the order of play for the dozen men on Bruno Peyron's 120-foot catamaran Orange II as they headed towards a comprehensive demolition of the west-east transatlantic sailing record last night.
Two years ago their attempt to lower the time of four days 17hr 28min 06sec, set by Steve Fossett on his 110-foot catamaran Playstation in 2001, failed by just 31 minutes.
Since then, Peyron has regained the Jules Verne Trophy, when he clocked just 50 days for sailing non-stop round the world, and on this latest trip he has set a new 24-hour record of 766.8 miles.
But he was being cautious to the end yesterday. As well as nursing a damaged port rudder, he was counting on an 18-knot breeze to power him, albeit at much slower speeds than he had previously been recording, towards the finish line at The Lizard, just off Land's End.
The wind direction also meant they had to put in two dog-legs during the run under southern Ireland to the finish. So he was then managing less than 20 knots, instead of the 30 which the boat was achieving in the first two days after the start in New York.
While Peyron had had to push the boat really hard in 2004, this time he has been easing off in order not to court disaster. On Wednesday he reported that, as the yacht was lifting its port hull clear of the water, he could see the rudder deteriorate to the point where only one quarter of it was left.
But even before sealing his latest triumph, Peyron has talked about lowering the record even further and pushing the 24-hour record through 800 miles. That compares with the 563 achieved by the 70-foot monohull ABN Amro 2 in the recently completed Volvo Race.
The first to claim a transatlantic record was Charlie Barr, who brought the yacht Atlantic across the pond in 1905, taking 12 days, 4 hours and 1 minute. In the last 20 years it has been the French who have attacked the record and the time of 6d 13h 3m set by Serge Madec in 1990 lasted for 11 years until Fossett, in a boat nearly twice as long, found the right combination of a fast machine and a favourable weather pattern.
Peyron was the founder of the Jules Verne concept of trying to sail round the world in 80 days - his 1993-94 achievement was beaten by five days by the late Sir Peter Blake and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's Enza a year later.
Two years ago, Ellen MacArthur set a singlehanded non-stop round the world record of 71 days, but in 2004 she missed, by 75 minutes, the singlehanded transatlantic record set, and subsequently lowered, by the Frenchman Francis Joyon.Reuse content